Archives For *Featured Reviews*

 

What it Means to be a Person
(Rather than an Individual)

 
A Feature Review of

Being Human:
Bodies, Minds, Persons
Rowan Williams

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2018.
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Reviewed by Rob O’Lynn
 
 

*** Our Video Intro to 
Rowan Williams’ work

 

Being Human is a collection of five essays that focus on various aspects of theological anthropology that were given over a period of four years.  A brief introduction begins the volume, in which Williams notes that this “unintended trilogy” has been “less about the basics of Christian belief and behaviour and more about the sort of questions in our culture that make us wonder what ‘real’ humanity is like and whether our most central ideas about what is human are under threat in this environment” (vii).  Williams’ argument specifically in Being Human is that answering the question of what defines a human is now more complicated than ever.  “No need to panic,” Williams notes, because “we do need more clarity than our culture usually gives us as to what we think is ‘more’ human” (vii).  The volume seeks to be somewhat apologetic, although in a more philosophical sense, in that “sources of contemporary confusion” regarding what it means to be human will be addressed so that the reader can find herself more “in alignment with the grace and joy of what is ultimately true—with God and with the will of God, as Christians would say” (vii).  In short, Williams seeks to examine some of the different pressures that are pressed upon the human in order to determine how these pressures shape us into or distort us out of the will of God.

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What it was designed to do.
 
A Review of 

Anti-social Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy
Siva Vaidhyanathan

Hardback: Oxford UP, 2018
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Reviewed by Jeff Nelson
 
 
“The problem with Facebook is Facebook.” That is the title of the introduction to Siva Vaidhyanathan’s extensive writing on the effects that social media has had on the world, on individual cultures, and on individual people. And yet, positioning Facebook as a problem rather than an aid or benefit to social interaction, personal connection, gathering around mutual interests, and political activism might be a hard sell for the millions of people who use it around the world every day. As you might imagine, Vaidyanathan is up to that task, and presents his case in methodical fashion.

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Bringing Passion to
Questions about Missions

 
A Review of 

From the Inside Out:
Reimagining Mission, Recreating the World
Ryan Kuja

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2018
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Reviewed by Allen Stanton
 
 
When I was a child, my father ran a homeless ministry in a deeply impoverished part of North Carolina. When a new family shelter and community development center opened in a former school building several miles from the original shelter and soup kitchen, my father recognized that he needed to visit with the members of his new community. My dad, who is white, asked several of his close partners, mostly African American pastors, to introduce him to voices that he would not hear on his own. They decided to take him to a crack house, just a few doors down from the family shelter.

“What is it you want to see in the community?” my dad asked the drug dealers.

“Honestly, we want a safer place for our kids,” they said with earnestness.
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Nods toward Transcendence 
 
A Feature Review of
 

Ball Lightning:
A Novel
Cixin Liu

Hardback: TOR, 2018
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Reviewed by Jacob Reynold Jones
 
 
It is only the most accomplished science fiction author who successfully networks theory and praxis, weaving a compelling narrative out of the process of science itself.

Cixin Liu’s Ball Lightning is, like much good sci-fi, a discussion of technology’s implications in war and the broader culture, as well as a reflection on the culture of science and its effects in our everyday lives. What sets this novel apart is that it is also the the story of an engineering problem and its solution–a solution that ultimately results in radical applications, with more than a smattering of theological undertones that may interest religious readers in both pantheistic and Abrahamic traditions.

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The Healing Balm
Our Wounded Souls Require.
 
A Feature Review of 

Southernmost:
A Novel

Silas House

Hardback: Algonquin Books, 2018
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Reviewed by Daniel Ogle

 

It just makes sense that a book about a Pentecostal preacher begins with a flood. Since the days of Noah, floods, storms and rain that just won’t quit have served as the backdrop for all kinds of sermons from all kinds of preachers.

In Southernmost, the hauntingly beautiful and urgently necessary novel from Silas House, Asher Sharp’s life is upended by a flood, of well, Biblical proportions. The waters rage as a storm turns the river near his Tennessee home into a destructive force. In the search for a beloved dog, Asher and his son, Justin, encounter two gay men.

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Evoking a life of shalom

A Review of 

Telling the Stories Right:
Wendell Berry’s
Imagination of Port William
Jack R. Baker and Jeffrey Bilbro, eds.

Paperback: Front Porch Republic 2018.
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Reviewed by Allan F. Brooke II

 

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks. These are the instructions for telling our stories right, and stories told in this way compel us to tend the splintered life of goodness that shines through the cracks of our wounded world.
– “Introduction,” Telling the Stories Right, xiv

 

Wendell Berry, respected author and essayist, is also known for his fiction, including eight novels and over fifty short stories which form an overlapping composite history of the fictional Kentucky farming community of Port William, and the “membership” of individuals and families who have lived and died there since the Civil War. The narratives need not be read in order, and the reader will find accounts of the same events from different characters (or the same characters) at different times and with different emphases. Several of the novels focus on a single character (e.g. Nathan Coulter, Jayber Crow, Hannah Coulter, Andy Catlett), and track the whole, or a part of his or her life in the community. Berry’s first novel was published in 1960 and his most recent in 2006, though he has continued to produce Port William short stories up through last year. (Consider the breadth of a life of fiction spanning from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Dog Stars.)
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 Looking inward.
 
 A Feature Review of

The Character Gap: How Good are We?
Christian B. Miller

Hardback: Oxford UP, 2018.
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Reviewed by Mary VanderGoot

 

When you pick up The Character Gap and see a picture of Mahatma Gandhi and Adolf Hitler on the dust jacket, you might expect the author is going to sort the good guys from the bad guys. Once you start reading, however, you realize that far from helping you point the finger at anyone else or create another hero, the author, Christian Miller, is inviting you to look inward.

This is a book written by the Director of the Character Project, which is being funded by the Templeton Foundation, and involves researchers around the world who are addressing basic questions about how people make moral choices. Gathering a wide range of findings together into an elaborate view of human behavior, the team of the Character Project is addressing one of the big questions: how good (or not) are we?

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The Silent, Invisible Wound

 

A Review of

War and Moral Injury
Robert Emmet Meagher and Douglas A. Pryer, Eds. 

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2018
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Reviewed by Shaun C. Brown

 

In 2014, Robert Emmet Meagher published his book Killing from the Inside Out: Moral Injury and Just War (Cascade Books). Therein he begins by saying that in 2012, there were an average of thirty-three suicides per month in the military. Meagher notes that this number does not even represent the gravity of the situation, for it does not include the number of suicides among veterans of past wars, or deaths due to self-destructive behavior (e.g., drug and alcohol abuse). While the military has known of the crisis for decades, they have done little to improve the situation. In the preface, Meagher states, “Our military, any military, knows all about killing the enemy. It is what they do, and our forces do it more effectively than most. What we are painfully coming to realize, however, is that we are also especially good at killing our own, killing them ‘from the inside out,’ silently, invisibly” (xiii).

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Transformed by the Power of Words
 
A Feature Review of 

Book Girl:
A Journey through the Treasures
and Transforming Power of a Reading Life
Sarah Clarkson

Paperback: Tyndale, 2018.
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Reviewed by Crystal Hurd
 
I have a rather large library in my home, and nearly all of the books I own were purchased upon the recommendation of a good friend whose judgment (and literary tastes) I trusted. Nothing is more pleasant than hearing a dear friend exclaiming that I “simply have” to read a new book. Nearly all of the authors that I adore now were at one time a suggestion. The same is true with Sarah Clarkson’s latest work Book Girl.

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The Free and the Lost.
 
A Review of
 

The Mars Room:
A Novel

Rachel Kushner

Hardback: Scribner, 2018
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Reviewed by Grant Currier

 

I won’t lie to you and say I didn’t devour Rachel Kushner’s newest novel; I did. Gorged myself on its lucid prose and somber setting that spread over the crispness of even its vulgar passages like frosting over a hot cake. During Epiphany, thousands of New Orleanians partake of their carnival bread, the king cake in which a minuscule baby doll is typically placed as an act of symbolism. As I read The Mars Room, I felt I was feeding on a literary king cake searching for the trinketry of a plastic baby Jesus, for the rich symbolism of humanity’s suffering and redemption. My fingers became almost sticky with the text’s messiness, but I kept eating believing I would find the doll, the redemption, but with the entirety of the novel digested, I have to confront the empty promise, though the book is not without its delicacies.

To be fair, Kushner’s novel makes no such promises of redemption. Her ingredients are more fractional, providing a plot as thinly salubrious as wheat germ (escape from prison), and populating the narrative with characters as substantial as garnish, with few if any being fully cooked characters.

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